10 Things To Anticipate From Travel Nursing That Aren’t Advertised

It’s easy to find information touting the adventure, career growth, and great pay that travel nurses enjoy. Of course, like everything else in life, there are also pitfalls to watch out for. Here are 10 things to anticipate that the industry doesn’t advertise. Knowing these in advance will help you have a positive and productive experience from the outset.

Here are 10 things to anticipate from travel nursing that aren't advertised.

Different Agencies Are Stronger in Different Locations

With over 300 travel nursing agencies, it can be overwhelming for new travel nurses to find an agency to work with. Moreover, you should anticipate nearly every agency to advertise that it has jobs “nationwide.” However, the truth is that different agencies are stronger in different locations.

Even the biggest agencies lack the ability to provide an adequate number of jobs in some states or major metropolitan areas. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to ask recruiters where their agency has a strong footprint and where it does not. This way, you’ll know whether or not an agency can get you where you want to go.

10 Things to Anticipate from Travel Nursing

Nothing Is Free

You can expect travel nursing companies to advertise “free” housing, medical benefits, travel, license reimbursements and more. However, the truth is that nothing is free. For example, every company that offers “free” housing will offer a “housing stipend” if you decide to provide your own housing. In other words, they will pay you money if you don’t take one of their “free” benefits.

It’s important to know that travel nursing pay packages are based on the “bill rate” for the particular job in question. The bill rate is the hourly amount that the agency is able to charge for the nurse’s time at the hospital. It is the only source of revenue that the agency has. Therefore, all costs associated with the contract are covered by it. If costs are lower, then pay can be higher and vice-versa.

Negotiating Hard Is Required To Get The Best Travel Nursing Pay

Nurses should always anticipate negotiating pay when they land a new job. However, travel nursing is unique in two ways. First, you’ll be negotiating much more often than usual. The standard travel nursing contract lasts for three months and every new contract requires negotiation.

Second, the negotiation process is much less clear in travel nursing. With permanent jobs, you can conduct research on sites like GlassDoor.com or PayScale.com. It’s also safe to assume that pay rates are relatively similar within a given geographic location. Moreover, many employers will publicly post a pay range for their jobs.

With travel nursing, the bill rates vary widely from job to job, so general pay ranges are unreliable. Moreover, there are times when hospitals are offering dramatically increased bill rates in an effort to get travel nurses to sign on quickly. Finally, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an agency that publishes it’s bill rates.

As a result, negotiating is very important to ensure that you are getting fair deals. Here are some things you can do to improve your negotiating strength:

  • Work with as many agencies as possible.
  • Gain a solid understanding of travel nursing pay packages.
  • Get agencies to compete for your services.
  • Talk to fellow travelers about pay.
  • Develop business relationships with recruiters instead of friendships.

Comparing Travel Nursing Pay To Permanent Pay Isn’t Straightforward

When advertising the value of travel nursing pay packages, many agencies include the value of every last item to be offered. For example, the value of medical benefits, housing, and travel stipends are often calculated into the advertised value of the pay package.

It is certainly necessary to consider the entire value of travel nursing pay packages when comparing them to one another. However, comparing them this way to permanent packages distorts their value, making them seem much larger than they really are.

Despite this, it is certainly possible to make very good money as a travel nurse. Travel nursing pay rates tend to fluctuate dramatically with the economy, so when the economy is hot, like it is now, travel nurses can do quite well. This article on Bluepipes Blog provides some great details on this topic so you’ll be able to avoid confusion and know exactly what to expect.

Guaranteed-Hours May Not Be Guaranteed

You’ll often hear that agencies offer “guaranteed-hours” for travel nurses. However, guaranteed-hours policies sometimes do not mean what their name implies.

You see, agencies sign contracts to do business with hospitals. These contracts include guaranteed-hours clauses. Ultimately, agencies want to get iron-clad agreements that guarantee every hour of the contract so they can collect their money no matter what.

However, many of these contracts allow hospitals to cancel a specified number of shifts per 13 weeks. For example, it’s quite common for the contract to allow three canceled shifts per 13 weeks. In fact, some contracts have no guarantee at all.

As a result, different agencies have different guaranteed-hours policies for their travel nurses. Some agencies maintain full guarantees regardless of the hospital’s policy. So if the hospital cancels a shift, the agency soaks up the cost and pays the travel nurse. Other agencies mirror their guaranteed-hours policies to those of the respective hospitals. Others have no guarantee at all.

As a travel nurse, it’s important to know this policy prior to signing any contract. Most experienced travelers won’t sign a contract without some form of guaranteed-hours.

There Is A LOT Of Employment Paperwork In Travel Nursing

You can definitely anticipate a lot of paperwork as a travel nurse. You’ll need to complete paperwork for every new agency you sign on with. More importantly, it’s becoming more and more common for each hospital to have its own set of documentation that must be completed prior to starting. This paperwork can be quite lengthy.

Some Hospitals Give Travelers The Difficult Work

Just like a permanent job, how you’re treated as a travel nurse depends largely on the hospital’s culture and management. Some hospitals are very thankful to have travelers on board and treat them as part of the family. Others blatantly dump on them and routinely give them the most difficult assignments. As a result, it’s always a good idea to do a little research on hospitals and discuss these issues during the interview prior to signing a contract.

Travel Nursing Jobs Fill Fast

You can anticipate travel nursing jobs to fill very quickly. Hospitals typically want travel nurses to start within four weeks of opening their job, if not sooner. Of course, there needs to be plenty of lead time for paperwork, coordinating accommodations, and travel time, so candidates are often selected in a week or two.

As a result, relying on job postings to secure travel nursing jobs is not a fruitful endeavor. Instead, you can use travel nursing job postings to help you find agencies that staff in your desired destinations. Then contact them to start the process.

It’s Best To Have Backup Plans

You can anticipate that it’s not always possible to land jobs in your most desired destinations. Things don’t always line-up perfectly. Therefore, it’s best to maintain a decent number of backup options or exhibit flexibility if you want to maintain continuous employment. This is another great reason to work with as many travel nursing agencies as possible.

There Are Startup Costs Involved

Finally, you can anticipate that there will be startup costs for every travel nursing contract. Travel nursing companies rarely pay for costs upfront. Instead, they reimburse costs. You can typically expect to receive at least a portion of your reimbursements with the first paycheck of the contract. In any case, it’s a good idea to designate some savings for startup costs.

Knowing all of these issues in advance will certainly help you avoid their negative impacts. In many cases, you’ll be able to turn potential negatives into positives with some of the tips provided. In the end, you’ll be able to have a wonderful travel nursing adventure.

Kyle Schmidt is a Co-Founder of Bluepipes, a healthcare professional networking website that provides features designed to solve the unique career management challenges facing nursing, physician and allied professionals.

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